Bills to eliminate Phila. Traffic Court, raise judicial retirement age voted out of House committee

By Jon Campisi | May 15, 2013

Three bills that court reformers hail as crucial steps toward improving the judiciary have

moved out of a state House committee.

Senate Bills 333 and 334, which deal with eliminating the scandal-plagued Philadelphia Traffic Court were voted out of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, according to the House Republican Caucus.

The committee also voted on House Bill 79, which would increase the mandatory judicial retirement age in Pennsylvania from 70 to 75.

That measure was sponsored by Republican State Rep. Kate Harper of Montgomery County.

The suburban Philadelphia lawmaker had earlier stated that the constitutional provision that requires jurists to retire by the end of the year in which they turn 70 is now outdated.

Ron Marsico, the Dauphin County Republican who serves as majority chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said testimony heard a couple of months back “compelled us to move these pieces of legislation out of committee today.

“Clearly, something must be done to put an end to the corruption,” Marsico, in a statement, said specifically about the bills to abolish Philadelphia Traffic Court.

The minor judiciary, the only one of its kind in the commonwealth, is currently left with only one sitting judge, after federal authorities earlier this year indicted nine current and former Traffic Court judges with “fixing” tickets for friends, family, and the politically connected.

The ballot for the May 21 primary election in Philadelphia still contains names for Philadelphia Traffic Court slots, since Senate Bills 333 and 334 wouldn’t have an impact, even if passed, on the upcoming election.

The reason – the legislation, which amends the state constitution, would have to be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be put to a statewide vote.

The earliest that could happen is in May 2015.

The two bills, which had been sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, a suburban Philadelphia Republican, would transfer all traffic ticket cases to Philadelphia Municipal Court.

“As majority chairman of a committee with over 230 bills, I am faced with the continual challenge of developing a meeting agenda that will tackle as many issues as possible with the time we have allotted in our committee meetings,” Marsico, the Judiciary Committee majority chairman, said in his statement. “The legislation voted on today represents a small piece of the aggressive agenda we are constantly working on during this legislative session.”

As for H.B. 79, Harper sponsored the measure to raise the judicial retirement age after a handful of state judges filed lawsuits challenging the constitutional provision.

The state Supreme Court is soon expected to hear one of those cases, while a federal court case challenging the same state constitutional provision remains stayed pending the outcome of the state case.

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